Mini Book Review ~ Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos

Chloe Parker was born two centuries too late. A thirty-nine-year-old divorced mother, she runs her own antique letterpress business, is a lifelong member of the Jane Austen Society, and gushes over everything Regency. But her business is failing, threatening her daughter’s future. What’s a lady to do? Why, audition for a Jane Austen-inspired TV show set in England, of course.

What Chloe thinks is a documentary turns out to be a reality dating show set in 1812. Eight women are competing to snare Mr. Wrightman, the heir to a gorgeous estate—and a one-hundred-thousand-dollar prize. So Chloe tosses her bonnet into the ring, hoping to transform from stressed-out Midwestern mom to genteel American heiress and win the money.

With no cell phones, indoor plumbing, or deodorant to be found, she must tighten her corset and flash some ankle to beat out women younger, more cutthroat, and less clumsy than herself. But the witty and dashing Mr. Wrightman proves to be a prize worth winning, even if it means the gloves are off…

[from the author’s website and publisher’s release]

 I often have trouble with sequels, and there are so many lately that my head spins just looking at the booklist! – I do marvel at the originality of all these writers wanting to re-tell in some fashion all that Jane Austen left unsaid, but in all honesty I want Austen’s characters left alone, to be returned to in their original state with a good solid re-read when I choose [though I am also of the school that says ‘no criticizing if you haven’t read the book’…!].  I find more to my taste the Austen-inspired fiction the likes of “Lost in Austen”, where the plot offers new characters, fresh dialogue, and inspired plots, where you are taken into Jane Austen’s world, either as a 21st century soul trying to adapt to what we think we know of the Regency Period and on that endless search for a character like Mr. Darcy, or Henry Tilney or Captain Wentworth (sigh…) – or perhaps a Willoughby if you are so inclined! – or where we are taken into her world where we meet a fictional Jane herself, as in Stephanie Barron’s creative mysteries.  Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Bridget Jones Diary, Austenland and The Man Who Loved Jane Austen  are all of this genre, and thankfully, all leave the original works quite at peace. 

The problem is that these too all start to look alike – the klutzy independent Heroine with “life issues” somehow transported into the early 1800s and found struggling against the social (and fashion!) restrictions of the times.  Definitely Not Mr. Darcy is the latest entrant in this genre:  I quote Publisher’s Weekly

Doornebos gives the historical romance a hilarious update in this delightful debut… The amusing secondary characters, sidesplitting faux pas, and fiery romance will make Doornebos an instant hit with readers.

 And from Romantic Times

Doornsbos brings readers a fresh take on Jane Austen’s world.  Mixing reality television with Regency-style romance, this tale combines a fun plot with witty dialogue, charming characters and a strong-willed heroine.  It will leave you laughing in delight and reluctant to put it down until the last page is read.

And “fresh take” though it is, one can’t help feeling “I’ve been here before.”  Ms. Doornebos states herself in the acknowledgments that she was mostly done with her writing before she even knew about the reality show “Regency House Party.”  And far too many of the characters do seem clichéd: the handsome Lord and Hero; his almost-but-not-quite dorky brother; the glamorous but really nasty American-bashing contestant; the side players with their own back stories that continually confuse the Heroine as to the truth vs. the play script; the borderline cruelty of the producer; and the Heroine, the all-American with a messy life who just needs to win the money (and a Lord on the side would be nice…), caught between this reality and her need for True Love.  Sound familiar??

Well, that’s ok – even Georgette Heyer rewrote her own formula fiction over and over again and alas! it is summer, and what better way to spend such a summer’s day than laying about with a quick read that has an engaging plot with a few twists, a Heroine you do root for as she falls into one mishap after another (she is often very wet and suffers various fainting fits!), and that irresistible Regency setting! And you will laugh out loud – the Cook, the Chaperone, the Maid, and a Footman or two who instruct and keep our Heroine in strict social compliance round out the story – you will learn the “language of the fan”, various fashion secrets, letter-writing etiquette (though this one glaring error: the constant reference to “envelopes” – yikes!) – the hated needlework assignments, side-saddle riding, a few archery lessons, the rules of dining and enough about Regency era food to turn any committed carnivore into a vegetarian, and several opportunities for dancing (the waltz!). 

Can’t tell more – would ruin your fun – just go and get yourself “lost in Austen” for a few hours and discover just how Doornebos fashions her Darcy for this latest Austen-obsessed Heroine. You won’t be disappointed! 

4 out of 5 Full Inkwells 

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos
New York: Berkley, 2011
Release date:  September 6, 2011
ISBN:  978-0-425-24382-4 


 Copyright @2011 Deb Barnum, of Jane Austen in Vermont